Blade Runner, a self-contained masterpiece, will now become a franchise, which seems like a terrible idea.

There’s been talk of a sequel for years, but now Sony pictures is going forward with the idea. Production begins in July and will re-unite Harrison Ford with one of the original screenwriters of the 1982 classic, Hampton Fancher. Ridley Scott, the original director, is notably absent; the new film will be directed by Denis Villenueve. 

Blade Runner was never an open-ended franchise like Star Wars or Star Trek, with recurring characters and a large universe to investigate. Instead, it was very much a stand-alone story, not just in terms of its plot but also in its main theme: the need to accept finitude and death. 

In one of the most memorable scenes in Blade Runner, Dr. Eldon Tyrell tries to convince the replicant he created of this necessity. “The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long,” Tyrell says. “And you have burned so very, very bright. ... Revel in your time.”

The original Blade Runner burned very brightly because it, too, had a sense of closure. Now it’s becoming just another franchise, with a longer life but likely a much duller sheen. 

February 23, 2017

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Ivanka Trump’s child care plan would mostly benefit people like Ivanka Trump.

In today’s edition of Ivanka Trump Is Not The Progressive You Want Her To Be, Bloomberg reports that her vaunted child care proposal would do little for lower-income parents:

A deduction for child care expenses is both costly and regressive because it would favor wealthier families with two working parents. The deduction would cost the federal government $500 billion in revenue over a decade, according to an estimate by the Tax Foundation, a politically conservative, nonprofit research group.

Two-parent households earning under $500,000 a year would receive the child care deduction; according to Bloomberg, low-income families would simply receive a larger income tax credit. That translates to some savings, but wealthier families would still benefit the most from Ivanka’s proposal. That’s not exactly a surprise: Ivanka is no policy expert. She may be drawing on personal experience, however: Nannies raised her; now she employs nannies of her own.

If Ivanka really wanted to improve American child care, she’d tell her father to spend more money on programs like Head Start. Or she could urge him to veto any bill that reduces the availability of free school meals. If she doesn’t, it’ll be even more obvious that she, like her father, sees the presidency as a means to protect her class’s interests.

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Melania Trump’s $150 million emotional distress.

The First Lady has refiled her libel lawsuit against Daily Mail Online, CNN reported yesterday, over their false publication last year of a story that she had worked for an escort service. But the new wrinkle is very interesting, as she and her lawyer seek to take back the admission that she wanted to personally profit from being First Lady.

The original lawsuit document clearly stated as a claimed damage: “Plaintiff had the unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as an extremely famous and well-known person, as well as a former professional model and brand spokesperson and successful businesswoman, to launch a broad-based commercial brand in multiple product categories, each of which could have garnered multimillion dollar business relationships for a multi-year term during which plaintiff is one of the most photographed women in the world.”

After two weeks of harsh media criticism, though, the lawsuit has been refiled to omit that language. The new claim is purely based on emotional distress—including the recent incident in which New York Times reporter Jacob Bernstein publicly apologized after he was overheard referring to her as a “hooker” at a party.

The amount she’s asking for now: $150 million—the same exact damages as were claimed before, from alleged commercial harm.

This raises many questions. But mainly, how exactly is “emotional distress” still worth the same $150 million that they were previously claiming as a concrete, material damage? Is it the emotional distress that comes from having lost opportunities to make money off being First Lady?

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Betsy DeVos is no hero.

The secretary of education released a pointed statement last night in response to the Trump administration’s withdrawal of the Obama-era federal guidelines that would have allowed transgender students to use bathroom facilities according to their gender identities. In the statement, she apparently sought to lay out in public what has been her own reportedly independent position, which was overruled in favor of Attorney General Jeff Sessions:

We have a responsibility to protect every student in America and ensure that they have the freedom to learn and thrive in a safe and trusted environment. This is not merely a federal mandate, but a moral obligation no individual, school, district or state can abdicate. At my direction, the Department’s Office for Civil Rights remains committed to investigating all claims of discrimination, bullying and harassment against those who are most vulnerable in our schools...

I have dedicated my career to advocating for and fighting on behalf of students, and as Secretary of Education, I consider protecting all students, including LGBTQ students, not only a key priority for the Department, but for every school in America.

But what does this even mean, when the administration’s LGBT policies are being run by the likes of Jeff Sessions and Vice President Pence? And as has been noted, DeVos caved after raising the issue that transgender students have high rates of suicide and suicide attempts. So she knows what the consequences are.

DeVos nevertheless chose to go along with the administration’s collective policy, instead of taking the option to resign. There are no heroes in the Trump cabinet—they signed up for all of it, the bad and the ugly.

February 22, 2017

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Mike Pence wants you to exercise the “individual responsibility” to not be poor or sick, like in the good ol’ days.

The vice president describes his party’s aspirational replacement for Obamacare as one that will “bring freedom and individual responsibility back to American health care.”

Keen-eyed health wonks will note the irony of Pence highlighting the importance of “individual responsibility.” Democrats cribbed the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate from conservatives—who devised it to prevent free-riding in the insurance market—to such an extent that its provisions are spelled out in law under the heading of “individual responsibility.”

This is clearly not what Mike Pence means when he talks about replacing Obamacare with something that enshrines “individual responsibility.” The key to understanding what he means is the word “back.” Before the ACA, there was no “individual responsibility” requirement to maintain insurance, and, relatedly, no requirement that insurance companies sell insurance to everyone on the individual market at an affordable price. If you were sick, or poor, or sick and poor, you were very likely priced out of the market or denied coverage altogether. The only way to guarantee yourself access to the market was to show enough “individual responsibility” not to be sick or poor in the first place. That’s what Mike Pence wants to go “back” to.

New Line Cinema

The Washington Post is a light in dark places when all other lights go out.

As Twitter has discovered today, the Post has quietly updated its homepage banner to accommodate the new slogan, “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” The slogan was first rolled out on Snapchat before making its way to the website’s front page, where the paper’s full audience could take it in—and subsequently mock it for sounding a whole lot like the official family words for House WaPo or a nugget of unusually contemporary Gandalf wisdom.

The origins of the phrase are fuzzy—according to WaPo communications VP Kris Coratti, it’s been a popular idiom among the staff for years. Apparently it’s been a longtime favorite of Bob Woodward (he’s been quoted as saying it as far back as 2010) and was parroted by Post owner/ambivalent Trump collaborator Jeff Bezos at least as early as May 2016, at a company event.

While it’s easy to make fun of the slogan’s grandiosity (as plenty on the right have been doing) and all the hard consonant alliteration, it is difficult to fault the sentiment in the same week that our president publicly branded the press the enemy of the American people. It’s too bad, then, that Coratti denied the move had anything to do with Trump.

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“Fake news” is still more trusted than Donald Trump.

Lots of folks became alarmed last week when the president lambasted “FAKE NEWS media” outlets (such as The New York Times, NBC, ABC, CBS, and CNN) as “the enemy of the American People.” But so far his efforts to delegitimize the press may only be hurting himself, according to today’s new Quinnipiac poll. In addition to finding that Trump’s approval rating is only 38 percent, the poll also tested Trump against his major domestic political target.

The first question on this subject asked: “Do you approve or disapprove of the way the news media has covered President Trump?” Here the media only made out at 45 percent approval, to 50 percent disapproval—thus suggesting that Trump’s instincts to target the media are good.

The problem is that when he was put up against the media, he didn’t fare so well. The next question: “Do you approve or disapprove of the way President Trump talks about the media?” The result was only 35 percent approval, and 61 percent disapproval.

And then this: “Who do you trust more to tell you the truth about important issues: President Trump or the news media?” The result was only 37 percent for Trump, and 57 percent for the news media.

These results were notably in line with Trump’s own approval ratings. Which might tell us something: Sure, people are iffy on the media. But if Trump thinks that blaming them can get him out of trouble, it doesn’t appear to actually be working for him.


Tired of Earth? Well, NASA has some good news.

Scientists at the space agency have found seven “Earth-size, habitable zone planets” orbiting a dwarf star 40 light-years away. And just in time, too, because this planet is looking pretty crappy all of a sudden.

“It’s the first time that so many planets of this kind are found around a same star,” Michaël Gillon, the lead researcher, said at a press conference on Wednesday. The planets, he said, “could have some liquid water and maybe life on the surface.”

The star in this system, called Trappist-1, is “ultra-cool”—which is actually not a bro’d out way of saying it’s chill, but a reference to its temperature. Trappist-1 is about 9 percent of the mass of our sun, and about one-thousandth as bright. But the exoplanets orbit the tiny sun much more closely than the plants in our solar system, meaning they’re still potentially warm enough for life.

Here is a NASA artist’s rendering of what it might look like to stand on one of the exoplanets:

We could work with this.

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Donald Trump’s campaign planted flattering stories in InfoWars to protect his fragile ego.

Throughout the 2016 campaign, staffers arranged press events and planted stories in conservative media for the purpose of affirming their boss’s greatness—dutifully presenting Trump with laudatory clips in the hope of taming his Twitter trigger finger and preventing him from lashing out at real and perceived slights.

“The key,” Politico reported on Wednesday, citing six campaign aides, was “to ensure that his personal media consumption includes a steady stream of praise. And when no such praise was to be found, staff would turn to friendly outlets to drum some up—and make sure it made its way to Trump’s desk.”

Specific instances in which aides deployed this strategy included his feud with former Miss Universe Alicia Machado and his meeting with the Gold Star Mothers of Florida—a story staffers pitched right-wing outlets to counter his war with Khizr Khan, the Muslim military father who lost his son in Iraq.

According to Politico, “A former senior campaign official said Nunberg and his successor, former communications director Jason Miller, were particularly skilled at using alternative media like Breitbart, Washington Examiner, Fox News, Infowars, and the Daily Caller to show Trump positive coverage.” When they successfully ensured this coverage was amplified on Twitter, aides would literally “print out and show a two-page list of tweets.”

The stated reason these former Trump aides talked to Politico is that they want to White House to follow their lead. Just over a month into Trump’s presidency, this is where we are: former staffers airing best practices for current staffers in the national press, all with the goal of restraining the president of the United States from reaming out the haters and losers on social.


Blabbermouth Stephen Miller may have already sabotaged Trump’s next Muslim ban.

The Trump administration has promised to release a new executive order on immigration to replace the one that was stayed by federal courts, which have held that its blanket ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations is unconstitutional. Speaking on Fox News, Miller said the new travel ban would “have the same basic policy outcome” as the previous order, differing only in technical respects.

With those words, Miller may have doomed the new order to the same fate as its predecessor, since a court challenge could easily argue that it has all the same legal problems. As the ACLU tweeted:

The first executive order was itself hurt in the courts because former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani boasted he had helped craft it with the intent of banning Muslims. The Trump administration’s problem is not only that it wants to do bad things, but that its officials, like Bond villains, can’t keep their big mouths shut about their schemes.

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Paul Ryan doesn’t understand his own definition of freedom.

In his latest effort to make the Republican case for ending the Affordable Care Act, the speaker of the House tweeted this:

The glaring problem here is the “ability to buy” part. Under the old order, far too many people didn’t have the ability to buy insurance in the first place. Or if they could, they were subjected to lifetime coverage limits, no coverage for pre-existing conditions, and any number of other personal barriers and restrictions.

And since Obamacare’s major accomplishment was to counter those forces, and thus enable people to get health insurance, that in turn opened up whole new areas of personal freedom: the ability to take risks and get new jobs, or start new businesses, and or simply have a sense of security and peace of mind.

So how exactly would it be a victory for “freedom” to pull out the rug from those who can finally buy health insurance?